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Superiors didn't tell us to stop 'kolam' ritual, says officer

Superiors didn't tell us to stop 'kolam' ritual, says officer

Source: Straits Times
Date Published: 12 Jun 2019
Author: Tan Tam Mei

Staff sergeant says the servicemen involved in fatal incident would have listened to them.

If his commanding officers had told them to stop the "kolam" ritual which involved Corporal Kok Yuen Chin getting into the 12m-deep pump well, the group of servicemen would have listened.

This was the testimony of fellow Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officer Muhammad Nur Fatwa Mahmood, 34, yesterday.

During the May 13 incident last year, Cpl Kok was pushed into the fire station's pump well as part of activities to mark the completion of his national service, and he later drowned.

Nur Fatwa was testifying on the second day of the trial in which the officers in charge of Tuas View Fire Station on the night that Cpl Kok, 22, drowned are contesting the charges.

The two on trial - Kenneth Chong Chee Boon, 38, a lieutenant, and Nazhan Mohamed Nazi, 40, a first senior warrant officer - were rota commander and deputy rota commander, respectively, that night.

The commanders were each charged in July last year with aiding a rash act that caused grievous hurt by illegal omission.

They had allegedly failed to prevent a group of officers from pressuring Cpl Kok to enter the pump well, thereby endangering his life.

Three more officers were charged for their involvement, of which two - including Nur Fatwa - have been dealt with in court.

Yesterday, Nur Fatwa, a staff sergeant, said he would have listened to Chong and Nazhan had they told him to stop"because they are (my) supervisors".

Nur Fatwa, who in October last year had been sentenced to one year and four weeks in jail for pushing Cpl Kok into the well and telling another officer to delete footage of the incident, is currently under home detention.

Elaborating, Nur Fatwa said he would obey the instructions of officers who held higher ranks than him out of respect. This is why he listened to Mohamed Farid Mohd Saleh, 34, when the first warrant officer allegedly told him to push Cpl Kok into the pump well, he added.

Farid, who was charged with abetting a rash act causing death, is expected to go on trial next month.

Nur Fatwa said he brought up the "kolam" ritual twice on the day of the incident: Once in the morning during attendance taking, and again at night when the officers on duty - including Chong and Nazhan - gathered in the control room to celebrate Cpl Kok's impending operationally ready date. However, he could not remember if Chong or Nazhan had heard him or responded.

Following the celebration, some officers carried Cpl Kok to the pump well across the yard, and others, including Nazhan, gathered around. At no point did anyone tell them to stop the act, added Nur Fatwa.

At the well, Nur Fatwa said Nazhan had told Cpl Kok that if he could not swim, he should jump closer to the well's edge.

During cross-examination, Nazhan's defence lawyer Singa Retnam tried to poke holes in Nur Fatwa's claim that Farid told him to push Cpl Kok.

What "you are remembering is not true because video evidence does not show that", said Mr Retnam, who also pointed out that, similarly, what Nur Fatwa recalled about Nazhan might not be true.

When questioned by Chong's lawyer Wee Pan Lee, Nur Fatwa said he brought up the "kolam" ritual to tease and scare the full-time national serviceman (NSF).

He also agreed that the act of pushing Cpl Kok into the well was unplanned and that nobody, including Chong, could have known the teasing would result in the push.

The trial continues today, when the officer who found Cpl Kok at the bottom of the well, Staff Sergeant Ng Meng Kiat, is expected to take the stand.


Dead NSF one of most well-liked at fire station, says fellow officer

Corporal Kok Yuen Chin was one of the most well-liked officers during his stint at Tuas View Fire Station, where he served as a full-time national serviceman.

He was always cheerful and helpful, said fellow Singapore Civil Defence Force officer Muhammad Nur Fatwa Mahmood, 34, who admitted last October to pushing the 22-year-old into the station's pump well.

Nur Fatwa, who was then sentenced to one year and four weeks in jail, had also admitted telling another officer to delete video footage of the incident. He has been on home detention since last month.

Recounting the May 13 incident last year, Nur Fatwa, a staff sergeant, said he considered Cpl Kok, a Malaysian national and Singapore permanent resident, a friend.

"Everyone in the rota (rotation), we treat them as colleagues and we are bonded as friends," he told the court yesterday while testifying during the trial in which two commanders in charge of the station on the night of Cpl Kok's drowning are contesting charges against them.

The two officers - Kenneth Chong Chee Boon, 38, a lieutenant, and Nazhan Mohamed Nazi, 40, a first senior warrant officer - were commander and deputy commander, respectively, of the station that night. They had allegedly failed to prevent a group of servicemen from pressuring Cpl Kok to enter the pump well, thereby endangering his life.

Nur Fatwa said when he heard on the morning of May 13 that it was Cpl Kok's last day of duty before his operationally ready date, he joked with him, saying: "Today, kolam."

The kolam ritual involves one entering the fire station's pump well.

He remembered Cpl Kok smiling in response, but could not recall if he replied. He added that Cpl Kok made a speech then, saying that "he loves us and thank you for everything".

Nur Fatwa also said he has taken part in the kolam ritual twice. Almost 10 years ago, he had entered the pump well of another station voluntarily. The other time was when he and others threw another officer who was leaving Tuas View Fire Station into the station's well.

"Kolam means to celebrate an occasion, such as a departure," said Nur Fatwa. He had expected Cpl Kok to enter the well voluntarily, and would not have forced him into the well.

He associated the kolam ritual with celebrations because it had "been done for quite some time".

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

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